Note from BW of Brazil: Of course, the comparisons are inevitable. For many years, Afro-Brazilian activists have compared the racial situation in other multi-racial countries with that of Brazil. The two countries that are usually compared to Brazil are the United States and South Africa, both of which went through periods in which segregation was mandated by law. According to logic and the mythology promulgated by the Brazilian government, Brazil was not only the country that has the best relations among the races, it was in fact, a ‘racial democracy’. And from the outside, considering the historic images we’ve seen of racism in the US and South Africa, and the lack of exposure of the situation in Brazil, it would be easy for one to come to this conclusion.
But after numerous studies on the Brazilian reality, we would soon discover facts showing otherwise. In fact, some of these reports (see note one) showed that Brazil’s famed ‘racial democracy’ was just as successful at discriminating against and excluding non-whites as the two countries that enforced legalized segregation, Jim Crow in the United States and Apartheid in South Africa. With this in mind, we must remember that it is not coverage in the media (see note two) that we should rely on when considering which countries are or are not racist or which is more or less racist, but rather stats that show the inequalities along lines of race in terms of income, education, health, occupational status. And when we consider such numbers we discover that it is as difficult or worse being black Brazil as it is in the other countries.
Brazilians surprised by racism in South Africa
What do you know about South Africa? Probably that it’s a country that has suffered from the racial segregation of apartheid, or it’s a great place to make safaris and also the place of origin of the leader who taught the world a lesson of coexistence, Nelson Mandela. But how is South Africa today? Also a former European colony, does it have the same problems as Brazil?
By Amanda Lourenço
Many Brazilians are surprised to spend a season in the country. The expectation does not always correspond to reality, both positively and negatively. André Girasol, a student from Araraquara, São Paulo, came to stay for six months. “I found it safer here than Brazil. I’ve never had problems with assault in South Africa, I thought it was super safe. I know people who were assaulted here, but never with a gun, just trying to steal what they had in hand,” he says.
“On the infrastructure issue I was surprised. I expected it to be something like or worse than Brazil, but I found it much better. The roads are good, it’s easy to find the places, the infrastructure of the houses is much better than in Brazil, at least more than the state of São Paulo,” explains Girasol.
The question of racism also comes as a surprise, as it is common to imagine that Mandela solved all the problems of coexistence between peoples, which is far from being true. “Here I realize that people who are white have more money than blacks. I found it very similar to Brazil. Even here being a country with 80% of blacks, it is they who do the jobs with lower salaries, it is difficult to see whites doing this type of service,” says the Brazilian.
Deception with persistent racism
Indyamara Massaro, who has a Master’s in international conflict resolution, came to South Africa as a researcher and says the country is much more developed than Brazilians think, but she was also surprised by racism: “I confess I was a bit disappointed with the racial interaction. It was very clear that there is still a very strong division in the country and it made me a little sad because I had an idea that things were already much more unified because of all this struggle of Nelson Mandela, but this is not the reality,” says the researcher.
In Brazil it is common to have the impression that Mandela managed to completely unify whites and blacks, so there is a false impression that everyone lives in harmony. But his legacy is only the first step in a long process that is still just beginning. The history of segregation in South Africa is still very recent – apartheid didn’t end until 1994. That is why Massaro thinks that racism in Brazil is worse.
“I think racism in Brazil is worse, although in South Africa it is more visible. It’s a recent event, there’s been little time since apartheid disintegrated. And even with its end it takes a while for things to start moving toward the ideal way and I think that’s what happens in South Africa,” argues Massaro.
“I believe that on account of apartheid many blacks didn’t have the opportunity to study, to get better jobs, so that the population is still strongly divided between the poor blacks and the rich whites. But I have hope that this situation will change,” opines the Brazilian.
Source: RFI Brasil
- Two important studies making comparisons of the three multi-racial nations include Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of South Africa, the United States, and Brazil by Anthony W. Marx (1998) and Beyond Racism: Race and Inequality in Brazil, South Africa, and the United States, edited by Charles V. Hamilton, Lynn Huntley, Neville Alexander and Antonio Sergio Alfredo Guimaraes (2001).
- It goes without saying that the media picks and chooses stories it wishes to present to the world and those that it will hide. For example, one must ask why the international media is not talking about the thousands of murders of Afro-Brazilians every year, but also the tens of thousands of whites murdered in South Africa since Nelson Mandela became president of the country in the mid 90s. The story of Nelson Mandela is also one that the media has not presented with 100% accuracy.